Splitscreen

Sat 12th – Fri 18th August 2017

reviews

Charlie Stone

at 12:12 on 14th Aug 2017

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Less absurdist than absurd was 'Splitscreen', a proclaimed Gogglebox parody which staged actors watching and commenting on their imaginary television sets. It is truly a bizarre production; the plot having little importance and seemingly incongruous scenes keeping the audience on their toes.

Unfortunately, though, the absurdist nature of this production became confusing to such an extent that it was difficult even to follow the individual scenes: a loud stabbing scene was highly entertaining, if entirely unexpected. A rendering of Wordsworth’s Daffodils ensues, and one begins to question the reasoning behind such decisions. Some scenes, such as the Attenborough-esque commentary, are comical, but there is not enough to suggest the play has a goal, even a reason for its absurdism.

The set changes – involving six chairs – are often clunky, and are more fluid when the narrator comes in to speak to the audience. It is when the narrator is speaking that the play is probably at its strongest, and there is some good physical acting behind him, especially when one hears the story of Old Aunt Agnes McBlair. Unfortunately, this storyline is not developed, and the show’s randomness becomes frustrating.

The venue itself is not entirely helpful to 'Splitscreen': a rather large room sets the audience a long way back from the actors, and it is never extremely pleasant to visit a club in the daytime. The diction of the actors, however, is adapted well, and would be very strong if it were not for the rather too quiet musical interludes which sometimes run behind their words.

Physically, a lot of the characters are skilful: they keep still admirably when others are playing out a scene, and perhaps the longest kiss in theatrical history is somehow kept going despite its rather uncomfortable positioning. Again, though, this kiss is part of a scene which is entirely confusing to the audience in the grand scheme of the play – even though it is only a half-hour production, it manages to combine a large series of non-sequiturs. Absurdism reigns, of course, but it is always bordering on the wrong side of the absurd. This is, then, a play that has potential, but needs to be more polished before it can reach it. The idea of a Gogglebox parody is inventive, but there is more to be done. In a society of mass surveillance, 'Splitscreen' has discovered the right theme and if its idea pursues might go on to be a work of some importance.

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Zoe Boothby

at 13:16 on 14th Aug 2017

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About ten minutes in to ‘Splitscreen’ I checked my watch, thinking that around thirty minutes must have passed. They hadn’t. When we eventually made it to thirty minutes, one of the cast members commented that she was ‘starting to lose the plot’. ‘What, only now?’ I thought. Unfortunately, in this ‘absurdist Gogglebox parody’, a competent cast are let down by an incoherent and unintelligible script. I would here briefly outline the plot of ‘Splitscreen’, but to tell you the truth, I’m still not entirely sure what that was.

Durham University’s HeadThirst theatre arrive in Edinburgh with the debut of student Tyler Rainford’s play, who has also directed the piece. His original conceit is interesting and certainly has potential – what if your television was watching you as you watched it? – but this is never explicitly explained in adequate detail. Instead the play opens with no context or clarification, and from there proves exceptionally difficult to follow. The most bizarre sequence would surely be a stabbing followed by a recital of Wordsworth’s ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’. Or, perhaps, the obsession over the nine o’clock news. Or maybe the scene depicting the life of a strange woman who worked in the mines when she was two. On second thoughts, the whole play was bizarre. I’m not sure I could single out one particular moment for being any more so than the rest.

The acting, despite the material at hand, is admirable. Special mention must go to Angharad Phillips, who was immensely watchable, even if I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on. The other cast members did the best that they could but without a decent script to anchor to, their efforts are left unrewarded. It certainly doesn’t help that the group are performing in Silk nightclub, a venue which looks pretty grim during the day, and smells even worse, like regret and bad decisions (and I’m not talking about the night before). The set was minimal which is to be expected with a piece of absurdist theatre such as this, but this austerity did little to aid the audience with any clues as to what the play might be about. The cast wore matching neon goggles, which I gather was meant to be a visual allusion to the voyeuristic themes of the play. But, as with everything else, I can’t be entirely sure so I’ll just say that they looked cool.

It’s unfortunate that a seemingly competent cast are not given the raw materials to make a Fringe show that matches their talents; instead, they are let down by a play which makes no sense and provides no enjoyment and doesn’t thought-provoke in the way that it thinks it does. ‘Splitscreen’ made me wish I had stayed at home and watched the telly instead, the opposite of its intentions (I think).

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